If you use AT&T Wireless service and you’re subscribed to the new HBO Max, there’s good news: watching TV or movies on the latter won’t count towards your data cap on the former. AT&T told The Verge that customers using its subsidiary’s streaming service would be able to do so without hitting data limits or “soft” limits for unlimited plans.
It isn’t good news if you’re an HBO Max competitor. Naturally, watching video on other services—YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, almost literally anything else—will still be counted as used data and subject to caps. This is a brazen violation of the principle of net neutrality, wherein all data must be treated the same by a carrier no matter what the source or content. It’s also flirting with monopolistic behavior, since AT&T is now providing the data backend, platform, and entertainment content itself. DirecTV, U-Verse, and Fullscreen—all AT&T subsidiaries—are also exempt from data caps on AT&T Wireless, in a program the company calls “sponsored data.”
Since FCC commissioner Ajit Pai torpedoed policies enforcing net neutrality in 2017, such practices are entirely legal in the United States. Pai’s repeal was met with outspoken backlash from consumers, politicians, and even some members of the technology industry. But with pro-business conservatives in legislative, executive, and judiciary control, there was no realistic path towards a return to corporate oversight.
AT&T’s competitor T-Mobile has been accused of violating net neutrality with its “Binge On” service, allowing compressed streaming on Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and a few other services not to count against data caps. In principle, this could make it more difficult for smaller video services to start up and find customers. But importantly, T-Mobile doesn’t own any of these services, and the benefits it receives from Binge On are entirely competitive.
Source: The Verge